Welsh literary culture is celebrated for its mediaeval myths and legends, such as the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. However, there are a collection of legends from an even earlier time, known as The Mabinogion. The first written copies date from around 1300, but the stories are rooted in a much older oral tradition.
If they were written today, they would be filed under the fantasy genre, as they tell weird and wonderful tales with fantastic and supernatural goings on. At the heart of several of the legends is Rhiannon, a wise and beautiful woman. Her name literally means ‘Great Queen’, and she is also referred to as the ‘Great Mother’ and ‘Great Goddess.’
Rhiannon is associated with horses, birds, and the Otherworld, which is a mythological realm of supernatural beings and the dead. She is often depicted clothed in gold and riding a fine white horse. Some scholars link her to an earlier Celtic deity named Epona, who was the protector of horses, ponies, and foals.
She is also a part of the chivalric mysteries of courtly love, and is married to Pwyll, the prince of Dyfed (an area of southwest Wales which is now Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, and Pembrokeshire). The romance is touched by tragedy when their first-born son, Pryderi, is abducted, and his nurses frame Rhiannon for infanticide to avoid the blame.
Rhiannon is also celebrated in more modern cultural media. For example, she was the inspiration for the Fleetwood Mac song Rhiannon, which was released in 1975. There are several modern retellings or reinterpretations of the Mabinogion which feature the Celtic goddess, with varying degrees of faithfulness to the original legends.
With such a rich heritage, no wonder the Welsh are regarded as a nation of soulful romantics!
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